An Alabama man is leading a campaign to remove the board of directors at Alabama Farm Credit (AFC), alleging the lender is guilty of corruption, conflicts of interest and extortion.
Dustin Kittle is a Geraldine native, lawyer and owner of Snow Creek Ranch in Columbia, Tenn. Kittle moved to Tennessee in 2020 after purchasing several agricultural properties in cash that he then financed through AFC.
AFC is a rural financing lender in north Alabama that provides loans to farmers, forestry and lumber operations, other ag-related businesses, and owners and purchasers of rural properties, according to its website. In its most recent quarterly financial statement ending in September 2023, the AFC reported a total asset value of $1,108,883,857.
Kittle said in July 2021, he "almost inadvertently" discovered several discrepancies with how his loans were being handled. He received a call from his AFC branch manager and longtime friend in Albertville, Amanda Simpson, who told him AFC Chief Risk Officer Jody Campbell had "manipulated" his collateral appraisals to significantly undervalue one of his Snow Creek Ranch properties at $490,000 instead of $1.2 million, which Kittle said was the true appraised value.
"By deflating the values of our collateral, Alabama Farm Credit then claimed we were short of their Loan to Value threshold," Kittle told 1819 News. "This allowed them to demand Kittle Farms in Alabama as additional collateral."
Kittle Farms in Geraldine is owned by Kittle's mother. Kittle said after a year of waiting for an appraisal on his mother's farm, AFC valued it at $481,000 — nearly half of what Kittle claims it's actually worth.
Kittle said he learned the appraisal was done by an AFC employee who lived near his mother's farm and previously expressed interest in purchasing the property, which includes 50 acres plus a house and a barn. Kittle said the AFC employee's husband subcontracted with him and also asked to get first right of refusal if he were to sell the farm.
"You can imagine my shock when after all those dealings and discussions we found out that our neighbor was involved in that valuation," Kittle said.
After "this ordeal" with AFC, Kittle said his mother was forced to sell 30 acres. She then had the remaining 20 appraised, valued at over $500,000, Kittle claimed.
After reporting the discrepancies to the U.S. Farm Credit Administration and to AFC leadership, alleging it had violated the Farm Credit Act and federal lending laws, Kittle said he was subject to "retaliation" by AFC and its private attorney Chris Glenos of Bradley Arant Boult Cummings law firm in Birmingham.
Kittle claims he was blocked from communicating with anyone at AFC, even for regular business purposes, and had his ability to apply for credit frozen for over 100 days. Kittle said he was told he could resume communications and normal business if he signed a confidentiality agreement not to take legal action against AFC, its board of directors, or Glenos.
After making it clear he would sign no such document, Kittle said Glenos sent him a letter notifying him that his loans had been placed in distress and the foreclosure process could begin within a month even though he had not missed a payment on any of his loans.
With the federal investigation by the FCA still ongoing, Kittle said he was forced to liquidate certain assets, including his home, to pay off the loans in full in December 2021.
Over the next 600 days, Kittle said he would receive updates from the FCA about the ongoing investigation. During that time, AFC never admitted any wrongdoing or disclosed the existence of a federal investigation to its borrowers or stockholders, he said.
In June 2023, the FCA told Kittle it had concluded its investigation and found that several of his accusations regarding AFC were valid. However, the specific findings of the investigation and subsequent penalties have not been released to the public.
Kittle said after the investigation concluded, he received a letter from Glenos's law firm saying they would continue representing AFC and its affiliates and still claimed the lender was innocent of any wrongdoing.
"I am still a borrower with Alabama Farm Credit (with them holding up over $5 million in appraised real property assets), but I am being told I cannot conduct any business whatsoever unless I release my legal claims against all of them," Kittle told 1819 News in an email summarizing his complaints. "Again, that is absolutely extortion and is exactly what the US FCA outlined in their findings was not just a violation of law, in that they were denying me the right to seek credit for any reason, but an egregious one, given that they were denying my right to seek credit because I refused to release them from being liable for violating federal law."
In September, after his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, Kittle began publishing documents, emails, phone calls and other correspondence between him, AFC officials and Glenos in an effort to draw public attention to his situation. He said he's since learned of other borrowers who claim to have been similarly mistreated by AFC and uncovered more instances of wrongdoing connected to other agencies.
"The number of agencies and people who failed to do their job to allow a borrower to be coerced with a foreclosure in pure retaliation when they had never missed a loan payment is remarkable," Kittle said. "Any of those agencies could have and should have stopped it but they wouldn't, either from complete incompetence or corruption."
Kittle has called for the voluntary resignation of AFC officers and directors. If they do not resign, Kittle is planning to hold a stockholder vote on December 1 to force the leaders out.
"If we get control back of the AFC … I plan to immediately rescind any and all non-disclosures signed by current and former employees and current and former borrowers so that everyone can speak freely on what happened to them," he said.
1819 News made multiple attempts to contact Glenos and his office but received no response.
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